What I think about when I am alone (#BellLetsTalk)
It usually comes on at night. After long days in the moments before sleep, time that is normally reserved for quiet reflection.
Your brain starts to get noisy. It is a strange brew of anxiety and self-loathing, crippling belief that somehow making it through the day alive and healthy was not okay; that somehow you failed.
Because you are not healthy. You are wrong, somehow.
When it wants to, the feeling gains momentum, driving out all other thoughts but itself and the need to make it stop. The feeling can carry on throughout the night and into the next morning when it wants to.
It started happening to me years ago. At first it was easy to dismiss — a product of being overworked, or of not trying hard enough, or the ennui of youth. But then even the smallest tasks became impossible, and anxiety attacks would hit so hard I thought my heart might burst while lying in bed, not knowing what had gone wrong or how to make it stop.
It is a secret sickness. The secret is driven by shame, a shame that comes from not being able to divorce you from your illness; from not knowing if what you are thinking and feeling is a product of you, or an a priori trickster feeding on your doubt.
Do I feel this way because I am me, or because I am sick?
I completely understand that in writing this there will be those who will no longer be able to fully trust me — who will only see a sick person. I understand this because I know what it is to have moments where I do not trust myself.
There is a great loneliness that comes from trying to hide your shame. Beyond the isolation that comes from a battle with your brain, there is also the vain hope that somehow you can stop those who knew you ‘before’ from seeing you as you are now. There are many friends from university and before, kind wonderful people whom I miss and think of often, that I let slip from my life because of this shame. I still do not want them to see me.
It is a self-initiated tightening around your life.
I have gotten better at tracking it in the last ten years. I have a checklist of questions and affirmations to suss out what is happening, and I know that tomorrow I will feel differently, even if I don’t believe it in the moment. Exercise, good food, and sleep help. But it never fully goes away. It is always there.
Sometimes it is very bad.
As a profession, I spend too much time on the Internet. Recently, on Twitter, I ran across someone — someone not quite like me, but familiar to me. Someone fighting a battle with their brain, but without the ready tools or support to do so. Someone more or less my age when this happened to me.
I am desperate to help this person. I have spent many evenings talking them away from the bad choice, the part of all of this we still don’t want to talk about even when we decide to talk. I have reached out to let this person know they are not alone, that they are cared for and thought of thousands of miles away, that there is no shame in reaching out and finding help. I have tried to encourage them to keep going on nights when I didn’t want to myself.
I am writing this because I truly believe that salvation comes through sharing. The solution to winning the fight against depression and mental illness is to not live in quiet.
But, good intentions aside, I also believe we must be careful with the way we treat those willing to share. It is dangerous to portray them as brave or heroic.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but please understand: few fighting mental illness, especially those fighting it on their own, are able to recognize dignity in their fight. To them, fighting mental illness isn’t an act of bravery, it is an act of desperation.
And that’s okay. We are familiar with desperation. It is something we can use.
It is desperation that fuels the push to stop the silent sickness from snuffing out the people around you. It is a desperation to not become complicit in your life slipping away.
I am desperate to not let the next ten years of my life be like the last ten years. I am desperate to not feel shame. I am desperate to reach out.